Posts Tagged With: Smallholder Farmers

Muli Bwanji, Malawi!

Dancing at a pre-wedding roadside celebration (ladies only!)

Before I got to Malawi, a flurry of well-traveled friends informed me that it was sure to be my favorite country ever. Being a bit of a contrarian (to be honest, a total hard-head), I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be … couldn’t possibly be after all the intense love affairs with other countries that I’ve had this year. But once I arrived in this desperately poor, achingly sweet country, I can clearly see why it’s called The Warm Heart of Africa.

At 45,000 square miles, Malawi is home to a densely-packed 14 million people, 85% of them smallholder farmers. Bordered by Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia, Malawi is one of the least developed countries in Africa, with no wealth of natural resources (although promising oil and mineral exploration could change that in a hurry), and only 6% of its people have access to electricity.

Malawi’s biggest crop is tobacco, which it exports primarily to China– but with climate change inexorably increasing droughts, a long history of government corruption, and almost a 50% currency devaluation this year, it’s fair to say the Malawi economy is in shambles. And of course, the poor always suffer disproportionately in bad times: 46% of Malawi’s children suffer from stunted growth and the average consumption of meat is about 10 pounds/person a year.

New president Joyce Banda is giving people hope of a better future, but she has a long, tough road before her. Granted, we were there in the end of the dry season when everything looks particularly parched, but life seemed very hard.

Despite all those challenges, we met a lot of highly joyful people –which is the conundrum I always feel in Africa. You want development to lift the people out of poverty and hunger, but you also know that with industrialization and urbanization come a lot of side effects that aren’t so beneficial. (Which is one reason I love the Heifer model so much, with its emphasis on improving smallholder farmer productivity, environmental integrity, and community solidarity.) 

Malawi got its great reputation because of its people, I’m quite sure. They are quiet, peaceful and polite (“If somebody is arguing and causing a ruckus, they are probably from Zimbabwe,” a proud Malawian confided to me.)

Malawians have a gift for music and dance and like most people in developing countries, they somehow manage to smile and be cheerful despite the quite crushing amount of work they do every day.

In the north (where we didn’t visit) the people are obsessed with education and the literacy rate is almost 95%, but the southern part of the country (where Heifer works) has a more laissez-faire approach and it’s not infrequent for girls to be pulled out of school and married in their teens – which drove me and my friend Pattie Ross totally nuts. (Pattie is Vice President of the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation and my outrageously fun travel companion on this trip).

Pattie & some new friends.

Heifer is relatively new to Malawi – with 5 projects in 3 districts since its introduction here in 2008—but it’s already established good working partnerships with organizations like CARE, the Norwegian government, and local community groups that are working together to help empower Malawians to feed and educate themselves, conserve their land, and develop their great potential. Once you’ve fallen head over heels in love with the beautiful people of Malawi (and it’s impossible not to), you know that can’t happen soon enough.

Categories: Africa, Farming, Heifer International, Hunger, Malawi, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

My admittedly tardy International Women’s Day Post! (Haiti Version 2.0)

I completely missed International Women’s Day on March 8th this year, and I’m feeling a little guilty about that. So I’m going to do one post at the end of each one of my trips, comprised of photos of the beautiful women I met in that country.

The women of Haiti were a constant source of inspiration to me: strong, brave, incredibly hard-working, and courageous in ways I cannot fathom. And despite their hard lives, full of joy.

But to be honest, I’m blown away by the women in every country I visit. On this planet there are 650 million smallholder farmers who produce 70% of all the food we eat. And the majority of those farmers are women.

When we help women farmers, we’re simply being smart –because with tools, training and technology, they will do what women always do: they’ll feed us, take care of us, and provide.

If I loved Heifer International for nothing else, it would be for its tireless, inventive, and unwavering commitment to empowering women farmers around the world to grow more, earn more, learn more, and achieve security for themselves and their families.

I’m seriously tickled pink to be a tiny part of this important work, and I can’t believe that I have the privilege of introducing you to these remarkable women (and there’s a story behind each one of these photos).

Happy International Women’s Day!! (let’s pretend it’s today).

And yes, I am in Peru now, and to prove it, here’s a little taste of things to come (it’s a female so it fits the theme).

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Haiti, Heifer International, Peru, Women | Tags: , , , , , , | 26 Comments

The paradox of Haiti.

To be honest, I was a little nervous about going to Haiti, Month #2 in my 12-trips-in-12-months visiting Heifer International sites.  Not because I was scared something bad might happen to me, but because I was afraid I wouldn’t find anything good to say about the country.

Well, like most worrying, that was a waste of brain space.

3 big things to like about Haiti... girls going to school!

Despite Haiti’s mind-boggling set of challenges and truly appalling lack of infrastructure–which was the case even before the earthquake of January 12, 2010– the country is beautiful (really!) the people are irresistibly gregarious, gorgeous and dignified, and there’s more life packed in one square mile of this country than in some entire states of the USA (you know who you are).

Art in the wind in Port au Prince

Plus, the projects Heifer is undertaking in Haiti are amazing and on a scale that the organization has never undertaken before…which I seriously can’t wait to tell you about.

But I’m not going to be too Pollyanna here. Some of the things I saw here made me ashamed to witness them.

Tent children

When I was taking a photo of a huge pile of trash randomly on fire by the side of a garbage-choked watery culvert running through one of PAP’s more notorious slums, a Haitian man sternly shook his head, as if to rebuke me for trying to capture the utter desolation of that scene. I didn’t take the photo – but the odd thing was, what I really wanted to show was that walking right beside the blazing garbage, beautiful women in clean, ironed dresses passed men in dress shirts and neat trousers– all going to work, going to market, carrying on.That refusal to bow to the indignity of living in conditions that should be crippling is incredibly inspiring. The tap-taps of Haiti alone stole my heart, with names like “Patience” “Eternal Capable” and the slightly unnerving “Blood of Jesus.”Tiny children toting big gallons of water up steep hillsides stop to smile and wave. In villages where people scarcely have enough to eat, you’ll hear songs of praise wafting up from an unseen church. And everywhere – everywhere! – people are working incessantly to improve themselves and their country—which makes you want to do anything you can to empower them to write a better script for their future.

Unfortunately, “doing anything you can” is not a prescriptive or particularly helpful instinct in Haiti. Or as Paul Farmer of Partners in Health put it succinctly, “Doing good is never simple.” While over 50% of American households –and the rest of the world–donated $1.2 billion to relief organizations after the earthquake, 2 years later debris still clogs the streets of PAP, tent cities of unimaginable squalor still house more than 250,000 homeless (but it was 1.5 million 12 months ago!), and the unemployment rate is well over 50%.What Haiti needs now are a decent infrastructure, functioning government, income-generating jobs, and the ability to feed itself (like it was starting to do 20 years ago, before a flood of cheap American imports crushed the life out of Haiti’s smallholder farmers).Heifer’s powerful new projects in Haiti are all about addressing the last two imperatives of jobs & agriculture with integrity and vision.  But… I have to write about that tomorrow.

Today, after 7 straight days of bone-crushing rides smushed in the back of a Land Cruiser, I’m taking the afternoon off– although that is a relative term, as we still have 5 hours to Cap Haitien and somehow the resolutely cheerful Ewaldy has convinced me we should take the bad back road so I can see more of the “bon paysage.”

Eternal Capable – that’s Haiti (and hopefully me)!

Categories: Agriculture, Haiti, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 49 Comments

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